Under the Covers

“Would you please welcome to the stage… Sloan!”

That line is not on the latest album of Sloan songs, but then neither is Sloan.  It can be strange listening to Take It In – like any cover of old favourites, there’s a Being Erica level of time-travel, becoming a past self.  I absolutely loved One Chord to Another as a kid (somehow I had the U.S. version with the ‘party’ CD), and To The Power of Three’s version of Anyone Who’s Anyone made instantly awkward and happy.

The best tracks took well-known songs and made them feel current again (“breathe life into a song that’s long lost its lustre,” as Torontoist said of Winter Gloves’ cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit).  Creepy Finger’s drone Take It In, Lonnie James’ Nick Drake style proto-emo* The Good In Everyone, Fuck Montreal’s lo-fi People of the Sky and To The Power of Three’s Anyone Who’s Anyone are great, and that’s just from half of the first album (Chenemies G Turns to D also stands out on the second album for turning a rockout in to a beautiful acoustic strumfest).

Even the straight-up covers though, the tracks that weren’t much re-interpreted, were fun (for a while).  Except there was one pretty common change: on most tracks appears the ubiquitous female backup vocal (and that includes Fuck Montreal and To the Power of Three, and The Guthries’ damn good cover of Coax Me).  And its weird – is this real progress because women at least have a role in these bands?  There’s no doubt that in the Canadian indie scene, singing in heavily male bands has made a woman’s career (see: BSS alums, Neko Case), but its strange that women are almost a necessary component to make a song sound contemporary, but are generally in the background.

And then there are the songs where women come to the fore: listen to The Light Brights’ The Rest of My Life or Laura Borealis’ Bells On and see if slowing it down and adding a woman’s voice doesn’t make that whiny heartbreak seem more sincere and defiant (protip: yes, it does).  Mary Stewart’s People of the Sky turns the whole thing on its head – it’s actually damn similar to the original, but song by a woman with male backup.

Most of us have memories (and opinions!) of Sloan, this band that’s been around for almost as long as most of us, made music to which we grew up, and now hits on/makes out with our friends (anybody who can’t tell this story to the third degree needs to make more friends in Toronto).  You won’t necessarily love Take It In if you love Sloan, and you might love it even if you hate Sloan, but this is absolutely about them, and us, after almost two decades.  “What could you both possibly share other than the colour of your hair?”  I guess we both learned to stop fearing women?

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